A new study shows hormone therapy may be a promising treatment for women entering menopause who are at risk of depression, says a University of Regina researcher.

"In the years leading up to menopause, women are really at a higher risk of depression, and we really don't understand why that is," said Jennifer Gordon, an assistant professor in the university's department of psychology.

Estrogen patch affects mood

Gordon is the lead author of a research study that used an estrogen patch to assess how hormonal changes may affect mood.  

"By using an estrogen patch, we can stabilize those estrogen levels, so women aren't experiencing those highs and lows," she said. "It was thought that would have a beneficial effect on mood, and it turned out that it did."

Depression risk increases two to four times in the transition into menopause, a fact that piqued Gordon's interest when she was completing her Ph.D., and drove her research on the subject.

Gordon and the Perimenopausal Estrogen Replacement Therapy (PERT) study research team conducted a one-year clinical trial, looking at women aged 45 to 60 who were in the menopause transition or early postmenopausal period.

Certain women see bigger benefit

Of the women receiving estrogen, 17 per cent developed clinically-significant depression. However, of the women receiving placebo, 32 per cent developed depression.

The effects of treatment were found to be even stronger among women experiencing recent stressful life events and women in the early menopause transition, as opposed to women who have been in menopause for longer, she said. 

Examining alternative treatments

While she finds the estrogen patch may help certain women in early menopause, Gordon says she would also like to study how other methods may help, for instance, with future research possibly looking at the impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction compared to an estrogen patch or placebo group.

'It's nice that this is really a contribution; it's going to inform future treatment.' - Jennifer Gordon, University of Regina

"Not everyone is willing to take hormone therapy, or they're scared of it, or they want alternatives, so I think it's important to explore alternative treatments as well," she said. 

Gordon will also be examining cardiovascular impacts of hormone therapy, with the team hoping to publish those results soon.

After three years of work, she said she was pleased to see a rewarding outcome to the research on hormones and mood. While the results still have to be replicated, she notes this finding is the first of its kind and offers promise.

"It's nice that this is really a contribution; it's going to inform future treatment."